Not long ago, any tavern owner with the nerve to branch out into restaurants was met with snickers of derision and prophesies of disaster. You know, different circus, different monkeys. “At the end of the day, they’re the same genus, but yes, different beasts,” says Danny Shapiro, a partner at Scofflaw, an exhilarating and well-run three-year-old cocktail establishment in Logan Square.
Now, bars act more like restaurants and restaurants act more like bars. It’s a natural leap for Scofflaw to generate Sink|Swim, an exhilarating and well-run seafood house two doors down. And Shapiro’s crew tames both beasts.
Sink|Swim, in a deep and roomy storefront outfitted with cyan booths, thick ropes, and a long bar bedecked with globes and bottled ships, satisfies in its own way. Chef Matt Danko, who won acclaim at Jonathon Sawyer’s celebrated Trentina in Cleveland, has some interesting ideas about seafood. Rather than putting, say, smoked trout on a pedestal, he hides it under a foamy bagna cauda, where it’s just another element on the plate, integrated into a whole with zucchini, almonds, celery root, and citrus. An unusual and impressive balancing act.
You can get oysters, delivered daily from various coasts and bays, on ice with mignonette sauce and lemon. But everyone’s doing that nowadays. Sink|Swim’s patrons also slurp them “as the Romans do” with a garum (fermented fish sauce) vinaigrette, ladled with crème fraîche and caviar or topped with Scofflaw’s Old Tom gin. Danko even sneaks bivalves into a gorgeous and savvy beef tartare set on a smear of horseradish cream with pickled onions and blanketed with malt potato chips and horseradish zest. Mollusks honored and used well.
The menu is as eclectic an ecosystem as you can find without a scuba mask. Whether pairing seaweed with potatoes and pecorino or topping a tea sandwich with shrimp and kimchi aïoli, Danko celebrates what he calls “the ocean and all of its ingredients.” This philosophy leads to some misfires, such as a jar of flavorless pickled mussels with leeks, olive oil, citrus, and dried-out brioche.
But it also leads to pinnacles: Danko’s crew sprinkles caviar on a tiny, creamy monkfish liver, then pares down the aggressive flavor with pickled grapes and a reservoir of onion soubise. The intricate and bold declaration—who cooks with monkfish liver?—begs to be devoured.
Sink|Swim ventures ashore with similar confidence. Crisp logs of lemony garlic panisse (fried chickpea flour cakes) nestle into parsley-heavy fines herbes. Gratifying charred broccoli on a bed of smooth whey soubise (rich béchamel-based sauce) gets sprinkled with pecorino and furikake (a Japanese seasoning mix). Even fusty-sounding chicken paillard becomes an off-kilter charmer on sunchoke purée, charred greens, and hazelnuts. If the kitchen’s spunk falters anywhere, it’s in desserts. Why suffocate a lovely custard of Gjetost (caramelized Scandinavian goat cheese) with chocolate sauce, hazelnuts, and crushed Whoppers?
Top-notch cocktails weave their way in and out of meals. Variations on the masterpieces folks are lining up for at Scofflaw, such as the strawberry-tinged Pellet Gun #2 (CH Aquavit with amaro, lemon, Peychaud’s bitters, and cucumber), are yours for the taking. Genial servers maintain a brisk pace, but sometimes brisk edges into brusque.
Sink|Swim is smart to let Danko forge his own path. He’s crafted a menu of likable, original dishes, and though one could argue that the portions are small, I suspect the problem is not with Sink|Swim but rather with what we’re all accustomed to. And whether serving gin with Cynar and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino or smoked parsnip soup with squid ink purée, the owners prove that hospitality is hospitality. If Scofflaw catches lightning in a gin bottle, Sink|Swim nabs it in a fishing net.